2014 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. First up: The Texas Rangers.

The Big Question: Were the bold moves bold enough?

The past two offseasons seasons saw the division rival Angels make huge additions in Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols. Those moves didn’t work and, indeed, those moves are cited as part of the reason the Angels have fizzled. Too much star power, not enough depth, they’ve said. It takes more than the big moves to make a contender. So why should the Rangers’ big offseason moves — trading for Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo be any different?

Because they fit a heck of a lot better with the Rangers than those other guys fit with the Angels, that’s why. The Rangers needed on-base ability at the top of the lineup. They needed someone with pop from the left side who can take advantage of the short porch in right down in Arlington. Choo and Fielder supply that in spades. Indeed, Choo is one of baseball’s true on-base machines, and the fact that Jon Daniels and Ron Washington have committed to batting him leadoff is going to mean good things for the lineup. Getting Prince Fielder out of Detroit — and getting him in shape — will do wonders as well. It’ll be hard to find anyone the baseball punditry says will have a better bounceback year than Fielder.

Yes, the Rangers had to give up Ian Kinsler to snag Fielder, but havung Jurickson Profar move into a regular, everyday role at second base is a nice fallback option. If he plays to his potential, the Rangers could have another star on their hands. If he falters, at least his glove should be solid.

Unlike the Angels, the Rangers were not a team trying to patch over several holes with a couple of high-profile signings. They were a strong team who needed a push over the top after falling a couple games short for the AL West title the past two seasons. With Choo and Fielder they should get it.

What else is going on?

  • Injuries to the rotation are going to go a long way towards determining the Rangers’ fate.  Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison and Martin Perez make a nice 1-2-3, but Harrison’s early-spring back issues are worth watching and not having Derek Holland around for the first half of the season due to knee surgery is a big problem. If Harrison is OK and Holland can step in when he’s healthy, the rotation should be OK. If both of those guys are gimpy much of the year Ron Washington is going to lean heavily on Alexi Ogando, Nick Tepesch and Tommy Hanson, and all of those guys are question marks. There’s a lot of depth here, but there’s also a chance that Texas is sporting a rotation with way too many 4-5 guys as the season wears on.
  • The closer spot could be an all-or-nothing proposition. With Joe Nathan gone we have Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria vying for ninth inning duties. Both are not too far-removed from dominant pitching and even less far-removed from Tommy John surgery. If one bounces back to his old form, the Rangers have a closer. If both do, they have a two-headed monster in the late innings which could shorten games.
  • A.J. Pierzynski is in Boston, leaving catching duties to Geovany Soto, who has been a backup the past couple of seasons, and J.P. Arencibia, who was one of the worst offensive players in all of baseball last year. Each is capable of so much more than they’ve done recently. It’ll be interesting to see if either of them can regain lost form.
  • Ron Washington’s contract was just extended through 2015. Seems like a late and somewhat short vote of confidence compared to how these things usually go for guys with a couple of pennants under their belt. If the Rangers, after taking on Fielder and signing Choo, underachieve this season, it wouldn’t be at all shocking to see Wash on the hot seat.

Prediction: That seat shouldn’t be too hot, though. The lineup is stacked. If the rotation doesn’t implode, this is one of the best teams in the AL. First place, AL West.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Where we stand:

  • The Brewers and Cubs both won, giving them each a half-game boost over the Phillies and a full game boost over the Mets, who lost, but keeping the status quo between themselves. Chicago has a one-game lead over Milwaukee for the second Wild Card and a five-game lead over both New York and Philly;
  • The Nationals lost to the Cardinals, reducing their lead for the top spot in the Wild Card race to a half game. We’ve sort of assumed for a couple of weeks that they were a lock at the top but, know what? They’re not;
  • The Twins put a half-game more on their lead over the idle Indians in the AL Central, making the margin five;
  • The Rays and Indians both had the night off while the Athletics lost, putting the Rays a game and a half behind the A’s in second and first, respectively, in the AL Wild Card race while Cleveland trails Tampa Bay by one and a half.

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Tigers 5, Orioles 2: When I did yesterday’s recap I didn’t realize that this was a wraparound series and none of you corrected me so I guess that tells ya how this matchup rates in our collective consciousness. Jordy Mercer hit a two-run homer in the first inning and Victor Reyes hit a two-run double in the second to help Detroit earn the split.

Brewers 5, Padres 1: Corey Spangenberg spent five years with the Padres before this season but he set any residual loyalties aside while facing his old comrades, driving in three runs, including a tie-breaking, two-run triple in the fourth inning. Zach Davies, meanwhile, allowed one run over five and the Milwaukee pen held San Diego scoreless for the final four innings. The Brew Crew has won ten of eleven.

Twins 5, White Sox 3: The Sox took an early 2-0 lead but those were the only two runs Twins starter José Berríros allowed while pitching into the eighth inning. Jorge Polanco hit a sacrifice fly and Nelson Cruz knocked an RBI single in the second to tie things up and Mitch Garver‘s RBI double in the fifth put the Twinkies ahead for good. They didn’t hit a homer in this one. I hope they feel OK.

Cardinals 4, Nationals 2: Marcell Ozuna drove in all four of the Cardinals runs with a two-run homer and a two-run double. He also nailed a runner at home plate in the fourth to keep the Nats from tying things up:

The Nationals are looking over their shoulder and seeing the possibility of three NL Central teams making the postseason while they’re on the outside looking in. Not saying it’s gonna happen, but it could.

Cubs 8, Reds 2: Kyle Schwarber hit a three-run homer and Nicholas Castellanos hit a two-run double while five Cubs relievers tossed five and two-thirds scoreless innings. Schwarber — who we have always identified with stellar defense, right? — also made this diving catch:

Rockies 9, Mets 4: Rockies pitcher Antonio Senzatela hit a tying, two-run single in the fourth after which Trevor Story, a far more usual offensive contributor, smacked a three-run homer to blow things open for Colorado. In all the Rockies roughed up Steven Matz for seven runs on six hits in four innings. Before that single, Senzatela had been 0-for-44 on the year.  Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeil each homered in a losing cause for New York.

Diamondbacks 7, Marlins 5: Robbie Ray pitched five and two-thirds innings of no-hit ball and left the game after allowing only one run in six innings. Once he was gone, however, the Fish put up a five-spot in the top of the seventh to come back from being down 3-0. Their lead didn’t last long as the Snakes put up a four-spot in their half of the seventh, including a bases-clearing three-run double by Jake Lamb, to give themselves back the lead and, ultimately, the game. Lamb also knocked in the game’s first run while being hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the first. There are easier ways to get an RBI but whatever works, right?

Royals 6, Athletics 5: The A’s six-game winning streak comes to an end thanks to some late inning heroics by Royals batters. Specifically, Brett Phillips hit a tying home run off Liam Hendricks in the ninth after which Adalberto Mondesí hit an RBI double to put Kansas City on top. That Mondesí double isn’t an RBI if not for the fact that, one batter earlier, Whit Merrifield reached second thanks to a Ramón Laureano letting the ball simply pop out of his glove. Oops.